Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean (2012)
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Critic Reviews for Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean
The movie is art and borders on art-film pretentiousness here and there, but there's no question that it's also mesmerizing and sexy.
A prologue featuring French poet Rimbaud underlines Mishory's vision of the American actor as part of a line of iconoclastic artists. But his pre-fame Dean seems more sullen brat than talented maverick.
Mishory's film walks the same forlorn street as that of Bruce Weber's 1988 Chet Baker documentary, Let's Get Lost, and shares its palpable fascination for an iconic individual cursed by both beauty and artistic genius.
Matthew Mishory's A Portrait of James Dean: Joshua Tree, 1951, some will argue, is a triumph of style over substance.
Audience Reviews for Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean
A portrait of pre-fame James Dean as a poetry-quoting bisexual gigolo who dabbles in S&M. Beautifully shot but badly acted, this is celebrity necrophilia dressed up in the shroud of Art.
For James Dean fans -- who only made three feature films in his lifetime (East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant) -- this will lamentably NOT be the biopic many would be hoping for. The title actually gives this away by calling itself a "portrait" of Dean by highlighting a brief portion of his life in Joshua Tree, California in 1951. Dean didn't make "it big" in film until 1955 (the year of his death) and his two consecutive Oscar nominations were posthumous in 56 and 57. This small film highlights a small phase of Dean's life as he struggles with acting and his drive to become famous. In the film, Dean is taking an acting class to learn the ropes and establish his footing in southern California while he lives with a nice classmate who apparently has some deeper feelings for him -- the film is based upon the writing of this roommate. Much has been said about Dean living a bisexual lifestyle and this film "goes there" -- some won't want to see how much skin is on display here (there isn't even that much but it might upset some is all) -- although the film never really goes into any of the particulars with any of Dean's relationships so the audience never knows if Dean felt anything for anybody else or if all of his moves were calculated and methodical ... hoping something would come from this fling or that encounter. The film feels rather pretentious at times (it is about James Dean!) but its stylish elements save it from being loathsome and detestable while the acting feels amateurish yet adequate. There are parts of this that are not good but just when a moment is becoming almost unbearable the film offers up something commendable that makes one take notice. There is a lot of promise here (like its subject matter) and it is disappointing that the film couldn't be more (again ... like its subject matter). This is probably a hard film to find and track-down and it won't be for everybody; but those fans of Dean's work probably won't mind seeing this small tribute to the star trying to make it in 1951 while not catching any breaks. It isn't much and is rather lite. Joshua Tree, 1951 is more "art" than anything else ... it is a what if (as most of it is merely alleged [but what isn't]). James himself is a what if ... if only.
Just saw this on my Kindle and really loved it. I don't really agree with any of the reviews or newspaper coverage of this pic -- good or bad. They all miss the point. What this film is really about is the existential loneliness of making art, and that theme is universal and eternal. At the end of the movie, Dean has loved and left and has his freedom (fame awaits), but he is ultimately alone. Alone to make art, to be great, etc. But alone. And The Roommate (delicately played by Dan Glenn, in my favorite performance), has essentially loved somebody impossible to have. How many great men (or women) are lonely and ultimately unfulfilled? THAT is the core of this movie. The prettiness of the photography and cast are secondary. A must-see for 2012.
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